Parents charged with murder for starving 6-year-old as punishment, police say

Michael Roberts and Georgena Roberts were charged with first-degree murder and child endangerment for starving their 6-year-old boy to death, police said. (Jersey County State’s Attorney/AP)

About 4:02 p.m. on Friday, police in Jerseyville, Ill., were dispatched to the Jersey Community Hospital in response to a 6-year-old boy’s death.

Police say the child starved to death last week after his father and stepmother spent two years withholding food from him as punishment.

The boy, barred by Michael Roberts and Georgena Roberts from eating regularly since December 2015, died Friday weighing just 17 pounds, according to court documents. An autopsy’s preliminary findings indicated the cause of death was “failure to thrive due to ‘extreme malnourishment,’ ” police said. The couple, both of whom are 42, are charged with first-degree murder, as well as a felony count of child endangerment. A Jersey County judge Monday ordered the couple held on $500,000 bail each.

If found guilty, they could face up to 60 years in prison and pay up to $25,000 in restitution, according to court documents.

They also are charged with a misdemeanor count of child endangerment in relation to another malnourished child, a 7-year-old. In addition to the 6-year-old who died, the couple had five other children living with them at their Jerseyville home in southern Illinois, about 50 miles north of St. Louis. The five surviving children have been taken into custody by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, according to a police statement. The conditions of the surviving children are unclear.

The boy was brought to the hospital by his father, according to the Associated Press.

The criminal complaint alleges that the parents “knowingly and intentionally caused [the boy] to become extremely malnourished, leaving the said 6-year-old child … to starve to death.” The parents additionally “knowingly withheld food and nourishment on a regular and consistent basis, such that the minor child … fell into a state of severe malnourishment caused by them,” according to the complaint. An investigation found the parents deprived the 6-year-old and 7-year-old of food as means of punishment, according to a police statement.

The parents’ actions lasted two years, according to the complaint, causing the boy to weigh about a third of the normal weight of a child his age.

The couple’s attorneys could not be immediately reached for comment.